Crossing street in Hanoi

I have the luck to work for an international company, Linagora, and especially in a team with members from different locations (multiple cities in France, Tunis and Hanoi).
So I had the opportunity to travel to Asia for the first time in order to do a Barcamp about ElasticSearch use in James. But for this article, I am not going to speak about technical stuff, I am going to give a tutorial about how to cross a street here.

Because yes, the first time you will arrive in Vietnam, one of the first thing that will strike you is the traffic. It is way more intense, anarchic/chaotic/auto-organised and two wheels oriented than in Europe!

Traffic Jams in Hanoi

So if you try to cross a street like in Europe waiting that there is no car and no scooter, you will probably enter into a deadlock situation until it reaches 2 a.m.
In fact, you have three strategies to success in this complicated mission.

Strategy number one is to wait that a local guy, for example a grandpa, want to cross the same street than you and just follow him side by side without looking the traffic surrounding you (otherwise you might get a heart attack).

Strategy number two, just stop thinking as an European and be brave. You have to take into consideration that here the traffic is mainly made of scooter so it is easy for them to avoid you as long as you move in a PREDICTABLE WAY. Being predictable is the key, so don’t stop suddenly, don’t cross by running, don’t turn!
As always a good way to achieve your goal is to divide it in multiple steps. So when you cross the street try to move one meter by meter, do not be afraid to make some stop in the middle of the street as long as you did it in a predictable way.
While doing this you need to focus strongly on the traffic and be careful people can come from any direction!
The issue is that staying focus is not easy as you can see a lot of surprising stuffs in Hanoi’s traffic that can disturb you:

  • a full family on one scooter
  • girl dressed in a very fancy way with spike heel driving motorbikes
  • a guy walking his pets/foods using the scooter in the middle of this crazy traffic
  • Vietnameses can carry anything on a scooter: sofa, chair, huge tank of water, alive pig etc…
  • and also quite a lot of thinks to sell on a bike: fruits, street food etc…

Strategy number three (suggested by a Vietnamese co-worker) close your eyes and just cross!

But don’t worry after a while you will get used to it and you might find that crossing street here is faster than in Europe because you do not have to wait for the traffic to stop. After one week here I can even succeed to bike in the traffic!